Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Vintage Dip Pens and Fountain Pens

Like most young kids, I was also fascinated by 'fountain pens'.  I have always wondered why my grandfather used to say 'fountain pen'. [Click]  Sitting on his study chair at home, I used to look at his two identical 'Swan' pens.  He was an advocate and wrote most of his notings and drafts by hand.  The typewriter in his office was used sparingly and only for important matters.  He had a peculiar grip with the right side of the index finger holding the 'section'.  He used these two Swans for many years and it had original 'Swan' nibs. He had a 'Parker' ball point pen also which he used only for his non-professional work. 

This is his pen holder made of stone - very old and broken many times.  It was an integral part of his desk at home.

Image: web grabbed to show how the 'section' [black part] of  the 'Swan' pen of my grandfather was.  It is very similar.

This is his Parker.  It has a 'jotter refill'.

[Blotting Paper]
A 'Bril' ink bottle and a plastic ink dropper were always beside the pen holder.  Ink spillage was a nuisance.  Somehow a drop or two would overflow while refilling the pen barrel.  Also, these fountain pens have this trouble of sudden 'vomiting'!  To suck up this spillage, there were blotting paper pieces ready.  We also used to protect our fingers holding the barrel with a piece of cloth while refilling. And sometimes, we also smeared a thin coat of 'vaseline' to the threaded neck to prevent leak.

['Bril' was also our brand for many years though we tried Quink [Parker] and Chelpark. Royal Blue ink was our preferred colour - the schools also wanted them. We sometimes tried the Black or Turquoise Blue.  But we soon reverted to Royal Blue.]

The above is one of the older writings of my grandfather and a rare use of black ink.  In my time, I never did see him use black. His handwriting remained constant, like his father's for many decades!

The pen-grip and the angle held are highly personal. Tip of a nib pen used by one person wears out at one particular angle with constant use.  Others will find it funny to write with it!  My grandfather had a condition that we should not fiddle with the two Swans, but I used to stealthily pick them up and try to imitate his grip and script.

After the 'slate-chalk' phase, children's first writing instrument was / is the pencil.  In our days, 'Copywriting' was compulsory.  For the younger lot who may not know what this is, here are web-grab images to sample what it was.  We had to practice the strokes of the letters/words that way.  It was in 'italics'.

[Click to 'enlargify']

We became eligible to use 'ink pens' only when we went to 5th. Till such graduation, our writing instrument was the pencil.  Though ball-point pens were available they were not advocated for children in those days [1960s].  Fountain pens actually enhance the handwriting performance.  Note this fact vouched and propagated by Bril. See the second 'bullet' below.
It is a fact, millions of users vouch and testify.

My first pen was a 'Bafna' green coloured pen. It was smallish and I loved that feel as it perfectly suited my small hand. It was bought during summer holidays soon after 4th class results were out!  It was lost from the school bag when I was in 6th.  I had kept this pen and a bamboo scale [that belonged to my father's younger days] in the pouch of the bag that evening and I was playing in the field after school with the bag of books hung on the back.  When I went home, these two items were missing.  I was shocked. The shaking of the contents while I was running about must have spilled the contents.  The next morning, I went to school a bit early, retracing my steps from the previous evening and made a frantic search at all possible areas.  But  to no avail, as there were other children also playing around.  We children were never satisfied with one pen.  So there was always the second one, but I cannot remember this 'stand by' brand.

My 6th class English Text. Ink took a while to dry on that smooth paper! 

Buying pens often was a constant affair as we saw one excuse or other to get a new one.  There was an old shop by name "Renuka Pen Corner".  It was on "Old Bank Road" close to Hotel Dasaprakash and adjacent to a cool drinks shop.  I think my grandfather knew the owner of this Pen Corner and so always bought writing instruments from him.  It was closer to his office on Soji Street [Gandhi Square].  Sometimes he also bought them along with his requirement of stationery from the famous stationer "R.Krishnaswami and Sons" on Sayyaji Rao Road.  This Renuka Pen Corner chap also used to do minor repairs and adjustments to the pens in front of our eyes on the counter table itself, which service was an advantage also.  I used to closely observe that for application in my later 'pen experiments and research' [spoiling]!

Some brands popular in my school time: Clipper, Parker, Hero, Pilot, Armour.....

In recent times, I preferred going to 'Harvest Pen Centre', owned fondly by Dinesh Chandra Misra.  An enterprising person. His passion is playing the flute.  His son is a famous flutist now. He was seen on the pavement with a colourful umbrella under which he kept a mobile table and a few pens for sale. He would stand by it playing the flute, without disturbing the public.Very recently I had visited his shop - he does not stand with the umbrella now - as I had some pens to buy. He was happy to also pose for a picture. Immediately he picked up his flute and played part of his favourite tune.  He had once told me that 'Harvest' was a brand from Calcutta and he used to sell them here.

I was very happy when my 'sacred thread ceremony' was fixed.  Ask me the reason why I was happy.  People would gift me pens for the occasion!  Gifting pens or pen-sets was a great fancy in those days as it was a very useful item.  Some of those gifts of that occasion have survived my experiments and use.

[These two are 'Pilot' brand.  They served me for many years. Japanese make. Popular design.

Its 'section' was like this. 'Section'?  Observe it in 'parts of a pen' picture slightly below.

This pair above - ink and ball pen was a gift from Farookh Irani who was the Managing Director of the famous Ideal Jawa Factory.  The pen is of 'Armour' brand.  Metal body.  Irani and my grandfather knew each other at Rotary Club.

This pen was a gift from our old tenant S.Gopinath who at that time was in Davangere.  This is Plato brand.

[Web grab image to show parts of the pen]

However perfect the section seemed to fit to the barrel, ink seemed to leak from somewhere.  The thumb, index and middle fingers would end up 'inky' everyday.  Some showed off the ink-stained fingers to boast how hard they studied! In attempts to stop the leak, we smeared a coat of vaseline to the threaded parts.  Sometimes it helped.  We also tried winding some sewing thread like plumbers to stop the leak!   This crack was either from a weak material or caused by our over-tightening of the section. In some stray cases, ink also leaked out through hairline cracks of the barrel's bottom. 

During our college days also we used fountain pens. For some reason, ink would escape into the cap and stain the shirt pockets.  It was a real mess.  Washing ink stains was a horrid circus!  I also had a pen that had a micro hole at the bottom of the reservoir barrel and would stain the pocket. Adhesive tape or 'quickfix glue' would not help. The pen had to be discarded.

Washing the pen before a new fill of ink was another chore.  Thin brushes [like bottle brushes] were also available to clean the inside of the barrel.  While filling, we often did not notice the ink level rising in the barrel and would overflow.  So we had to carefully drop ink into it. We always held a piece of cloth and also kept  writing chalk, just to be careful lest the ink stains any objects below also!

Some interesting pens would come in the market to attract children.  We were fond of such transparent pens  [below] as we could keep a watch of the ink level.  We wrote two pages and checked the level!

I do not know why the pens I used had 'starting trouble', whereas the huge pen used for writing prescriptions by the renown physician Dr.VR Krishnaswamy Rao of Mysore Pharmacy started to write without any such trouble! I used to clean my pen often but still the 'free flowing ink' would somehow would clot.  I had to wring the pen to make it write and that resulted in dotted lines on the floor!  Sometimes we used an old shaving blade to make ink flow smooth at the nib.  We ran the blade at the slit of the nib to clear any ink clots.

We always took two pens in the box or pocket when we went to write our all important annual examinations.  The spare pen was in case of any eventuality like the pen slipping from hand, falling blunting the nib, or if ink in the barrel was exhausted [as if we wrote a long novel!],despite filling it to the brim before the exam.   There were many cases of students who did not have a spare pen and requiring a pen mid way in the exam in such emergencies.

Let me show a few instruments from my great grandfather's time. He was in the times of the 'dip pen'.  So, ink pots were a fanciful and integral part of writing instruments.  I must mention here that square depressions were provided on wooden desks in schools and colleges of old times to keep the ink pots. Some old colleges still use the old desks!

Solid glass ink holders. 
Glass ink holder. Used it as a candle stand.  When I wanted to remove stuck wax.  Heated it on a flame.  It cracked into pieces. It was a puzzle. Finally put all the pieces back using 'Araldite'.
This is made of Bakelite. There is an embossing on its back "GEF, Mysore" - Government Electric Factory!  I am told that it later became "NGEF". 

 This is another glass item.
 This was meant for carrying in the pocket without spillage..

 Another steel ink holder.  It has provision for two little bottles - also meant for carrying.

 Another ink pot.  An ivory pen is also seen.
 Two ivory inlaid pens, one ivory pen and one metal pen.
Close up to show intricate inlay work.

Nib holder from Eagle Pencil Co. New York.......

.... patented March 25, 1879.

This is an Indian nib - writes very well!

My father used a similar pen, "President" brand. He used it because of its larger ink tank capacity!

I hope the images you saw in this post helped you relive and retrace your sweet memories from childhood.